Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
After years of writing and performing with The Impressions, it came as no surprise to anyone in 1970 that Curtis Mayfield’s eponymous debut solo album was thoroughly brilliant. Predating both Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971) and Isaac Hayes’ Shaft (1971), Curtis managed to be as wholly funky, lyrically pointed and socially conscious as both of them. Mayfield’s greatest skills as a lyricist were in being able to talk directly to all people—casting responsibility on all of us for the state of the world—without ever seeming to preach or talk down to anyone (see album opener “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go”).
Yet alongside the somber message-driven funk of “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” are reminders of Mayfield’s embarrassingly enormous skillset: “The Makings Of You” has the sweetest soul melody outside of Philadelphia’s ‘70s golden period and “Give It Up” relates the breakdown of a marriage replete with unkept promises and unfulfilled possibilities. The centerpiece though is the magnificently positive and sweat-inducing brilliance of “Move On Up” —once you hear the whole 8 minutes and 52 seconds, transcendence is a distinct possibility.
A great debut album? How about one of the greatest albums of all time.